The river recreation management process for the Madison River is getting underway as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announces a slate of community meetings and solicits applications for a citizen advisory committee.
The agency will use four community meetings to explain the river recreation planning process and find out what concerns people may have about recreation on the Madison River, said Pat Flowers, FWP Region 3 director.
After the four meetings, the agency will appoint a citizen advisory committee, which will work together to develop a recommendation for recreation management on the Madison River. This recommendation will be forwarded to the FWP Commission, which will have the final say on any formal management plan.
People interested in being on the advisory committee need to submit an application by March 16.
The advisory committee will have a diverse representation to adequately address the varied users on the river and be comprised of up to 12 people, according to FWP’s website.
River recreation management has a relatively short history in Montana. Four other rivers in the state have gone through the process, including the Beaverhead and Big Hole Rivers in southwest Montana.
The process to develop a recreation management plan for those two rivers was contentious and led to the development of the more formalized planning process that exists today, said Robin Cunningham, director of Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana.
Cunningham was involved in helping the agency develop the planning process that will be used on the Madison River.
Cunningham will be applying for the advisory committee and is focused on making sure FWP adheres strictly to the process outlined in their river recreation planning rules and uses the best information available to guide the committee.
“There’s lots of layers of administrative involvement and hopefully transparency,” Cunningham said. “Because this is a river that’s nationally known they (FWP) are paying a lot of attention to transparency.”
Some of the information the agency has gathered about recreational use on the Madison River is available on a page on their website dedicated to this specific process. The information includes angler use days, along with angler and landowner surveys.
The Madison River is the most heavily fished river in FWP region 3. Depending on the year, it’s the most heavily fished river in the state – jockeying for the top spot with the Missouri River.
Over the past years, FWP has prioritized rivers around the state for recreation management. The Madison River has been at the top of the priority list in region 3 for some time, Flowers said.
Recreation management on the Madison River is really shared between FWP and the Bureau of Land Management, which manages quite a bit of land along the upper river and operates about half of the fishing access sites along the length of the river. The BLM also manages the Bear Trap Canyon Wilderness Area below Ennis Dam.
The discussion of developing some sort of formal recreation management plan for the Madison has also been ongoing between the two agencies, said Tim Bozorth, director of the BLM Dillon Field Office.
“We’ve dialogued with them for a number of years on the potential of triggering the river management rule process,” Bozorth said. “I agree with FWP that we need to take a look at things, take a hard look and get some recommendations from the citizen advisory committee on how we should be managing recreation on the Madison.”
The BLM will be engaged in the recreation management process on the Madison from beginning to end, he said.
“We intend to work closely with them on the project,” Bozorth said.
However, it’s important not to invent a problem that isn’t there, Cunningham said. All the surveys conducted by FWP demonstrate that people are pretty satisfied with the recreational experience on the Madison River.
That’s why it’s going to be important for all the people interested in the Madison River – from outfitters to main street businesses – to make sure their feelings and viewpoints are heard, he said. That way if there are recreational conflicts on the Madison River they can get addressed.
“Get a real solution to a real problem rather than someone’s preconceived notion of what ought to happen,” Cunningham said.
The one thing he cautions is focusing too much on the commercial use on the river. Commercial use on the Madison River is permitted and very easy to track.
However, it is only about 14 percent of the total use of the river, he said.
The problem is that restrictions tend to hit fishing guides and outfitters first because they’re the easiest to regulate.
“There’s always that concern, particularly in a relatively defensive commercial community, that pretty much they are the only ones who have had restrictions put on them,” Cunningham said.
While it is certain that a river recreation plan will be developed, just exactly what that plan will entail is still an open discussion, Flowers said.
“We are not coming into this with any preconceived notion with how that river should be managed,” he said. “One of the best things about this process is it comes from the users and that’s both noncommercial and commercial users.”
And though the recreation use on the entire stretch of the Madison is high – from the fly fishing on the upper river to the tubers and party floaters in Bear Trap Canyon – it’s not at a critical point, Flowers said.
“I don’t believe we are at an absolute crisis point on the river,” he said. “Which in my mind makes it a better time to take on planning when you’re not in a crisis mode.”
The four scoping meetings will begin Feb. 15 in Ennis at the middle school at 6 p.m. There will be another meeting the following night at the Bozeman Comfort Inn.
The third meeting will be in West Yellowstone at the Holiday Inn on Feb. 28. The last meeting will be at the Whitehall High School, March 1. All meetings will be at 6 p.m.
For more information on the recreation planning process or to apply to be on the citizen advisory committee, go to FWP’s website (click here) or call FWP’s Bozeman office at 994-4042.